After spending our morning at the famous Santa Monica Pier, we decided to visit the Museum of Tolerance. I had heard about this museum a couple of times during my postgraduate study so I was interested in experiencing it for myself. We hadn’t planned on going because it was a bit out of the way from everything else we wanted to do/see. That was until I discovered there was a bus from Santa Monica that stopped literally at the entrance to the museum. When we first arrived we were directed by a lovely volunteer who gave us a lot of information about the exhibitions. She also recommended a route through the museum that we followed.
Section 1: The Holocaust
The exhibitions on the ground floor are divided into two sections – one that focuses solely on the Holocaust and one that focuses on the concept of tolerance. In both exhibitions there was limited opportunity to chose your own path.
The Holocaust section began with the office of Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter, which had been taken apart and moved from Vienna. As well as the office, there were a few original documents and a map that displayed a digital story of the War. Visitors were then directed to take a card, each representing a different child that lived during the Holocaust. At various stages throughout the display, visitors could enter their cards into a machine and read the child’s story.
From here, the exhibition transformed into a timed digital display. There were a variety of dioramas that would light up moving visitors chronologically through the history of the War. This was from, primarily, the Jewish perspective. It started by introducing the three people who were going to be our guides: an historian, a researcher, and a digital display artist.
The information supplied by each section was informative and combined photographs, films, and testimonies. One section that was particularly insightful was a cafe scene. Different tables were highlighted throughout the scene and visitors heard a variety of stories. After each story was finished, a voiceover announced what happened to the individual/s. It allowed the display to tell individual stories in context.
I have never seen Holocaust history explored in this way and while a part of me thought it was slightly outdated, another part of me thought hearing the history from start to finish had great impact. Objects were dotted throughout the display adding some visuals to the spoken words.
At the end of this section I was emotionally exhausted. We started to read the stories of people who saved hundreds during the War. During this time, we met another lovely volunteer. After chatting with him for a few minutes, he revealed he was the son of Leopold Page/Pfefferberg who was saved by Oskar Schindler. He also strongly advocated for Schindler’s story to be told, persuading and encouraging Thomas Keneally to write Schindler’s Ark. It was absolutely incredible to hear parts of his father’s story.
The exhibition concludes with a final card-reading machine. Here visitors receive a print out that tells the story of the child on their card and whether or not they survived. We were reminded that 9 out of 10 didn’t.
Section 2: Tolerance
The second section was more abstract and tackled issues such as prejudice and hate. We were a bit overwhelmed with how much text there was in this section.
The main part of the display consisted of different coloured boards displaying a timeline. We stopped and read only a few. Right at the end was a board where you could write how you can stop prejudice in your day-to-day life on a card. These cards covered the walls of the exit.
Section 3: Anne Frank
The final section we visited was a special exhibition on the life of Anne Frank. Similar to the Holocaust section, it was a directed tour. We first watched a film about the Frank family and heard from Anne Frank’s cousin, Buddy Elias. Hearing about her life from a family member was a powerful way to start the exhibition. Hearing about her life before reading about it in her own words gave a new perspective. Elias believed, when comparing her letters to him and her diary entries, that when they were in hiding she matured beyond her years.
Visitors then walk down some stairs to see original pages of her diary and hear some entries being read aloud. We skipped quite a few of the digital interactive displays opting to look at the objects instead. One of photographs below shows a section of the ‘rolled-fabric’ wall. These represent the lives lost during the Holocaust.
This history is really difficult to display. It is, however, incredibly interesting to see exactly how it is displayed by different museums in different cities. The section on the Holocaust portrayed the history utilising methods I had never experienced before. It ultimately meant I had an opportunity to hear one version of the event from start to finish. Nothing could be skipped and museum fatigue took a bit longer to set in.
I would recommend this museum to anyone who is interested in learning more about this period of history in a more digital format.